Chief taps captains for talent-management

| July 25, 2014 | 0 Comments
Army chief of staff pondering a comment.

Prudence Siebert, Fort Leavenworth Lamp
Chief of Staff of the Army Ray Odierno listens to a captain brief on his group’s recommendations regarding mission command during the Solarium 2014, July 11, at the Lewis and Clark Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Groups shared their recommendations with Odierno concerning talent management, Army vision and branding, Army culture, training, education and mission command.

David Vergun
Army News Service

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas — Talent management team members discussed talent identification tools that could make the process more effective.

The business social networking site LinkedIn was mentioned frequently as a useful tool that allows users to share profiles and skills with each other and with talent scouts and employers.

If such a system were implemented by Human Resources Command, it could match positions with talents and would allow Soldiers to get in the loop as well. Jobs and opportunities would become visible as well.

This type of fluid and dynamic interaction would require buy-in from leaders and managers and a culture shift, the captains said. They suggested that the Army isn’t capable of building such a system, and partnering with industry would be needed.

As it stands, iPERMS, Army Career Tracker System and the Officer Evaluation Reporting System are cumbersome, not interconnected and can be unfriendly to the user at times. There needs to be a centralized, one-stop shop to visit, they said.

Soldiers also need report cards to see where they are at a glance, so they’re not surprised by results of promotion or assignment selection boards, they said. The report cards would be accessible at any time and would include professional development scores as well as other data that are fed into the decision matrix used by board members.

Such a system would allow officers to extrapolate their strengths and weaknesses and would encourage self-improvement.

Although the Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs) have recently been modified to better reflect an officer’s standing and potential, “commanders are not making the tough calls” when they fill them out, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno said, meaning the marks and remarks are inflated. “OERs look too much alike” and that makes the board selection process very difficult.

More work needs to be done in the area of performance reviews and evaluations, Odierno acknowledged.

Recent changes to the OER have been a marked improvement, however, the captains said. Human Resources Command’s Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program is also effective and is another step in the right direction.


Young Guns

Some of the captains said it is not uncommon in the private sector to see young chief executive officers running large companies. Throughout American military history, young officers have often risen quickly through the ranks to command large formations during wartime. Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer is an example.

They wondered if a 28-year-old officer might have the talents and inclination to command a brigade, side-stepping or bypassing the current system year-group and time-in-service requirements in favor of a merit system. Perhaps a commander could take a prudent risk in selecting such a person for command.

Odierno waxed hot and cold on this idea.

“I like your argument, but there are some impediments,” he cautioned.

A brigade commander needs to have a certain level and types of experience, he said, including “tactical and technical leadership capabilities that allow you to operate across the broad spectrum of problems.”

Broad spectrum, he said, could be anything from understanding how recruiting works and having experience as an instructor at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, to getting a master’s degree in international relations with experience at the joint level or with a coalition partner. Command at the company and battalion levels would be desired as well.

“You’re entrusting the lives of America’s sons and daughters” to the commander, so taking a risk like that would be too big a gamble, he said.

“We’re not a company like Apple or CISCO that’s about profits and margins,” he said. “Ours is a complex system of life-and-death responsibilities where learning mistakes could cost the lives of hundreds of people. We can’t walk away from the responsibility of command.”

Besides that, there are statutory requirements that prohibit favoritism in deep selecting, he added.

But the idea of elevating talent quickly is, nevertheless, worthy of consideration in other ways, he said.

Could a cyber expert or financial wizard be quickly elevated to colonel?

“I’d be comfortable with that,” he said, meaning developing a fast track for technical specialties where the likelihood of command in battle is near nil.

“We’ve got to figure out how to do that with the authorities we now have and determine what new authorities we need, realizing the process could take five to 10 years,” he said.


Peter Principle

Besides fast-tracking talent, the captains suggested that slow tracking might also be a good option, citing the so-called Peter Principle.

In 1969, Laurence J. Peter authored a book by that title, which proposed that many people rise in rank or position to their highest level of incompetence.

His book cited instances of ineptitude and the damage that ensued, not only to others, but to the individuals themselves. He used case studies to show that ulcers and more serious medical conditions resulted from the stress of being unable to cope with tasks and responsibilities many were ill equipped to handle.

Talent-management team members offered that there are likely some officers who would make ideal brigade commanders, but lousy division or corps commanders. Likewise, there are specialists who do a great job and love their work, but would make inept sergeants.

The captains suggested there should be a track for them as well, as the current system is limited to up or out.

If the Army has 10 slots for brigade commanders and 50 officers competing for those slots, would the Army want to bank on someone who is ranked eight, but has little potential or desire for service beyond the brigade level? Odierno asked. If the Soldier ranked eleventh has potential for growth beyond the brigade and his record is nearly as good as eight’s, wouldn’t it be wise to pick 11?

In any case, the Army would hate to lose a Soldier who is performing a valuable service at the level he or she is at, but who doesn’t desire or merit a promotion. It’s a “conundrum” with no easy solutions, but is worthy of further discussion, he said.


Carrots for Performers

There was unanimity among the captains and the chief that more incentives are needed for the Army’s top performers.

Incentives could include choice of assignment and educational opportunities.

A paid sabbatical to finish graduate school was another idea. The Army recently initiated the Career Intermission Pilot Program that does just that, but Soldiers do not receive their full pay and allowances.

Odierno said the Army is looking at offering top performers a master’s degree opportunity outside of the traditional graduate degrees received at service schools. Selectees could major in such areas as international relations, business administration, finance or public management with two follow-on payback assignments.

So someone majoring in international studies could have a follow-on assignment at the J-3 or J-5 with a follow-on at the State Department, he said.

One captain said that the Army Medical Command already has this program in place and that he himself is enrolled in it, studying for a doctorate degree.

“It’s a great motivator, but getting in is highly competitive,” he said.

Odierno promised the captains that their ideas would be given serious consideration and that he would explore their feasibility and provide follow-ups on actions taken.

The Army’s got talent, he concluded, and with junior officers like these leading the service in the coming decades, the Army will be in good hands.

Army leaders said it is likely there will be future solariums, perhaps with noncommissioned officers, warrant officers or those of other ranks.

(Editor’s note: Read Part I of this discussion between the Chief of Staff with 105 captains regarding the future of the Army in last week’s (July 18th) Hawaii Army Weekly, p. A-1.

Future articles will discuss suggestions made at the solarium in the areas of vision and branding, culture, mission command, education and training. For more ARNEWS stories, visit, or Facebook at

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